An architect is one that has evolved from a multi-skilled artist- one that possessed knowledge on subjects ranging from architectural design principles to art and aesthetics to construction techniques. Their methods were their trade secrets. Sensational stories about the extent architects and their patrons would go to protect their work from being copied are aplenty, one of the most famous being the tale of emperor Shah Jahan ordering to cut off the arms of every worker who had helped build the Taj Mahal. Drama aside, this is just going to show the value of protecting the skill and mastery that went into creating iconic buildings across the world.
This attempt to preserve the mystery resulted in the alienation of the architectural community from the public. Architects grew more obsessed with design principles, forgetting the most humane aspect of architecture- its users. This chasm of miscommunication has resulted in the architects struggling to understand the public voice, and the public blissfully ignorant of the dialogue of architectural elements in the very environment where they live and function.
As every architect with reasonable experience will know, architecture involves a certain amount of marketing proficiency. You have to be adept at selling your design in order to win authority/client approval. Knowing your way with words is also necessary with particularly fanciful clientele. Advertising your work in various forms of print and virtual media is slowly becoming the norm these days. Showcasing your work in a way that resonates with people across the world without losing them in the labyrinth of technical jargon is a useful advantage. Communication, therefore, is an important talent to hone, because no amount of visual aid will help if you are not able to properly explain your design in words.
One of the most significant changes that need to be made is at the education level. Students of architecture are taught to focus on conceptual development and user requirements in their design problems. They are encouraged to let their imaginations soar and come up with innovative solutions. But in that process, the guides forget to teach them to talk about how to communicate their design. More often than not, students lay so much emphasis on visual communication tools that they forget to work on their verbal communication. Naturally, in the end, even if the student’s idea is brilliant, they lose out on the communication front.
The community also needs more architects who are trained in the art of effectively communicating in words and images. It is necessary because they would then take over the responsibility of generating awareness about architecture and its appreciation among the general populace. For example, the demolition of PragatiMaidan in New Delhi, and the talks of Correa’s Kala Academy in Goa meeting the same fate recently had caused an uproar not only among the architectural fraternity but also outside of it. This was an important step forward because it initiated a dialogue between people from various factions of society about the importance of preservation of heritage buildings and the reasons to call for their protection.
Meanwhile, the situation is better within the professional community. Some architects are more than willing to share and discuss knowledge with their peers, and there is up and coming technology for everyone to experiment with. But there is still reticence in terms of usage of these new tools. Another very important aspect of this is the numerous bruised egos as a result of criticism. But the thing to note is that as offices are increasing in both size and number, it is now imperative for every practicing architect to learn how to appropriately communicate in an employer-employee/partner-partner scenario. In the age of the internet, when information is just a click away, communication is the key to better relations between professionals, so that healthy mutual respect for work and a harmonious work environment can be created.
Learning how to communicate appropriately and successfully with a layman or a member of the general public is of utmost importance today. That is what will set you apart from the scores of other architects so lost in ‘design details’ that they are apathetic to the actual user. As our profession is threatened by the engineers and contractors trying to up the ante, it is in our hands to be more aware of what the public needs, and stand up for it. With technology advancing in leaps and bounds each passing year, architects still hold the mantle of developing the world and making a safer and more pleasant place to live.